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Changing dynamics in the Middle East

Ahead of this year's Middle East Conference, we spoke to MBA2017's Nayla Tahan and Georges Abou Nader, co-chairs of the conference.  

The Middle East Conference is the flagship event of the Middle East Club at London Business School. The conference takes place on March 3 2017. Click here to register your attendance

1.      You co-chair the LBS Middle East Conference - what are we to expect?
NT: This year’s theme, Paradigm Shifts, explores the changing dynamics of the region. The fall in oil prices over the past two years has triggered a major rethinking by the Middle Eastern oil exporters, as seen in the decision to list Saudi Aramco, which has been in the news over the past few days. There have been other major structural and social ramifications - as nations move away from being rentier economies, a flourishing entrepreneurial scene has emerged in the region. Armed with access to the latest technology, social media and crowdfunding platforms, and an active angel investor network, entrepreneurs are better positioned than ever to establish new businesses. We have invited several influential people to discuss these changes and we are very keen on hearing what they have to say!

GN: The Middle East is currently going through significant change: falling oil prices, the Iran deal and the current political turmoil have forced businesses and governments to rethink their strategies within the region. The ME conference is the perfect opportunity for our public to learn more about shifting strategies that have long been thought to be canonical.

This year, we decided to focus on entrepreneurship as burgeoning ecosystems across the region are gradually providing public and private entities with means to diversify from conventional businesses.

2.      How would you define a successful leader in the Middle East business landscape?

NT: Leadership skills are universal across the world but the Middle East requires specific traits that are driven by cultural and social norms. For example, leaders need to demonstrate a high degree of sensitivity and respect towards others. This translates into understanding how to address people at different levels and being careful not to offend by using the wrong words or tone of voice, or by being too direct. I also think that business in the Middle East is more about relationships and that it takes longer to build relationships and earn trust, so leaders might have to be more patient.

I think that a successful Middle Eastern leader is able to reconcile tradition and progress. As most readers may know, the region is renowned for its entrenched ideologies and traditions that go beyond religion. These beliefs are (rightfully) regarded as a great source of wealth for the region. However, during this critical period, leaders must learn to curb the excesses of one’s culture to allow more modern ideas to flourish. 

3.      What has been the most challenging aspect of organising the conference? 

NT: Organising such a big event has indeed been quite a challenge, from coming up with a theme that captures what’s happening in the region, to marketing the conference, to choosing the menus. However, the most challenging aspect has definitely been selecting the right speakers from a wide range of great leaders in the region.

GN: My main challenge was undeniably securing reputable speakers for the conference. I faced this challenge in all three conferences I organised while at LBS, and this taught me to first and foremost rely on my teammates and classmates. We are surrounded by impressively well-connected individuals who are always willing to help. Furthermore, I learned to leverage the school’s assets to reach speakers. LBS’ brand and alumni network have repeatedly proved to be very useful in that regard.  

4.      How do you personally define a “good life” or a “successful life”?

NT: Having a career that I am passionate about, traveling often, exploring the world and discovering new experiences, and being surrounded by a close group of friends and family to share things with.

GN: To put it simply: doing whatever makes you love Mondays!

5.      What has been your highlight at London Business School so far?

NT: There are so many memorable moments that come to mind, from amazing treks and classes, to hearing from fascinating speakers and exploring London. But the biggest highlight is by far the people that I met at LBS. 

GN: The people, without a doubt: Over the past 18 months, I have met amazing individuals and built solid friendships.

6.      Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

NT: Mona Hatoum, Zach Galifianakis, Madonna and Zaha Hadid  

GN: Saladin, Martin Luther King Jr. and my father (he wouldn’t want to miss that).                             

7.      If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why? 

NT: Providing clean and safe drinking water to people who do not have access.

GN: Education: First, well, knowledge is power. Furthermore educating the masses could rid us of a multitude of world problems (famine, poverty, global warming and most wars to name a few). We should focus on spreading knowledge and finding ways to develop our technological capabilities as a species.

8.      What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

NT: That you are always in control of your actions and can put yourself in the right situations and create your own “luck”

GN: You’re not omniscient. You can’t know for certain that your current life path will lead you to success. The best you can do is start somewhere and seize the opportunities that present themselves.


Thanks both! You can find tickets and more information about the Middle East Conference here